There’s a phrase in the LDS community that’s used almost too casually these days-
“Oh he left the church a long time ago.”
Or-“She doesn’t want anything to do with the church anymore.”
We may know someone who has either talked about a family member who does not go to church anymore, we may have in our own families someone who has “left the church”, or we ourselves have decided that the Mormon community isn’t the path we feel is the right one for us.
In each scenario, the person found outside the Mormon “community” may feel ostracized or less than because of the pressures of belonging and solidarity with the doctrines and cultures of the LDS church.
Too often, I fear that the first reaction to someone experiencing doubt or anger, fear or frustration with regards to Mormonism, is to try to cover up the issue by telling them, in effect, “this too shall pass, just keep having faith.” While that advice is not necessarily bad, it can be construed in a negative way sometimes.
Things happen to everyone, hard difficult things, and faith can be shaken, often lost, never to return again. So how do we minister to them?
We can recite scriptures, tell them to pray, attend church, (all good things), but sometimes the person no longer feels a desire to do that, so the mistake made is to try to push back and say “But this is the right thing to do!!”
It may be the right thing for some, but for others, what’s needed is for someone to listen.
Listen to their side of the story, cry with them, try understand what they are experiencing. Make them feel like their voice is heard.
The church put out a website to help members more fully understand their role as “ministers”. On ministering.lds.org we learn from the First Presidency this important counsel:
“The Holy Ghost plays a crucial role in helping you discern members’ needs and circumstances and in guiding you with impressions, thoughts, and feelings.“
As we listen to the promptings of the spirit, he will give us impressions, call us to action with regards to ministering to those we care about. He can encourage us to do small, simple things to show our love for the ones who leave.
I have had conversations on the phone with loved ones who said they no longer felt included at church, felt like a finger of shame was constantly pointing in their direction, so they, in turn, left the church they grew up in.
Was that an easy thing to do? No it was not. They felt alone, felt judged by those around them, felt the fear of not being accepted.
So when I had this conversation, I initially was going to express my thoughts to them, share spiritual experiences, but I felt like I needed to listen. I spent the next hour hearing the hurt, feeling the pain and aloneness, finding out a whole new side of the story I had never heard before.
I started to understand what they were going through. It was definitely an eye opening phone call, one that has stayed with me my entire life.
Those who have left, from my experience, didn’t feel understood, they felt preached at. They didn’t feel loved, only resentment. God is fully aware of all His children and new revelation this last week for how we should approach serving others is vital.
This new shift from Home and Visiting teaching to ministering is similar to the way missionary discussions went from word to word reciting, to what we now know as the Preach My Gospel handbook. It is allowing the members to fully engage with the ultimate converter and conveyer of truth-the spirit.
Are there instances where there was an outpouring of love and support, and the person ministered constantly, trying to follow the spirit and act on the promptings, but the person still left? Yes there have been, and you know what? There should still be an outpouring of love and kindness, understanding and charity no matter what the outcome. Ministering should be considered an act of love, not obligation. As a Christian I feel it is my responsibility to always show love first, no matter what.
The First Presiency later goes on to state:
“Additionally, His power will bring hope into their lives as they understand that He is willing to help and save, even when they experience recurring human weakness. The Lord taught “My grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them”
As we watch our loved ones experience this human weakness, or if we struggle with it ourselves, our weak things can become strong through Christ. One of His most important attributes that isn’t talked about much, is His ability to listen. He wisely heard the doubts of His followers, the fears of his friends, the pains of strangers.
There is power in silence, power in lending a listening ear and sometimes it is OK to have differing opinions on things. If the ultimate goal is to “change” or “fix” someone and their challenges, then we may lose sight of what it means to minister.
Our Savior, even Jesus Christ, had been ministered to in His ultimate time of need. While in the Garden of Gethsemane, under the most excruciating pain and suffering anyone has and will ever experience, He received help from on High:
“And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him…”
We should love first, listen second, and always be there for them, because Christ, the greatest Minister of us all, gave us the perfect example of how to love.